Ever since we founded Victorian Farmstead in 2010, processing access and regulations have been our biggest obstacles. It is the challenge of all small, local ranchers who try to bring sustainably raised meats to their local community. Due to our size, we small producers struggle to get slots in the USDA facilities that we are required to use. They are few and far between and now generally several hundred miles away. Finding a solution to this challenge has been taken up by a new organization we are proud to be a part of, the Bay Area Ranchers Co-Op. We would like to share our story in the hopes that you can help us bring sustainable, consistent processing to Northern California and help protect your own food sources.
The challenge of USDA certified processing came to a head about a year ago when the only local USDA slaughter facility closed its doors to local producers. This forced any local ranchers who wanted to sell their meats direct to the consumer to haul their animals as far away as the Central Valley or Eureka. This goes against everything we all built our businesses on; taking care of the animals and raising them as best we know how, keeping our carbon footprint as small as possible, and making sure that they were processed as humanely as possible.
Well, one of the thing you should know about ranchers in general is that we are a pretty resourceful bunch and we don’t like to be told what we can’t do. So in February a group of Northern California ranchers got together and started exploring the possibility of bringing a Mobile Slaughter Unit (MSU) to our area. This is no small undertaking and has been explored many times before. I was part of one of those exploratory committees back in 2013. The challenges are many, starting with county regulations, NIMBY-ism, waste water management and many others. MSUs are a catch-22 as they avoid certain county regulations by being mobile and yet are hard to pencil out financially as that time moving from spot to spot is not generating any revenue. Yet with all those challenges this initial exploratory committee was able to put together a solid business plan based on months of research in regulation, marketing, potential sites for housing an MSU, and most importantly what was best for the ranchers and their animals.
In early summer, the plan was presented to a group of 16 local ranchers and it was decided that the best entity to run this MSU would be a co-op. This presented another learning curve as all these ranchers had to lean into topics like corporate filings, raising capital, real estate transactions and creating organizational policy. While we are all experts in our respective businesses, this was a whole new level of education. All of this had to be accomplished while running our individual businesses during a pandemic. If you want to get something done give it to the busiest person, right?
So, on July 28th, 2020 the Bay Area Ranchers Co-Op was founded. Led by a nine person board of directors (of which Adam is the Vice-President) we have a formed ourselves legally, we have created board policy on how we will operate, we have launched fundraising efforts large and small, and we have identified a site to house our MSU. One of the reasons that this endeavor will be successful is the plan to house the unit in one location. This seems weird for something called a “mobile” slaughter unit, but think of it like a mobile home. You can move it if you have to, but it is better suited to stay in one place. By having local ranchers bring the their animals to the unit, we maximize processing time. At the end of the day, it is still a business and has to be run as such.
One of the reasons we choose a co-op is that it allows for the members, in this case the ranchers, to control everything. For years we have been at the mercy of slaughter facilities that only cared about their own bottom line. With the formation of BARC, ranchers have taken control over the entire slaughter and processing operation. That means we decide who runs the plant, who becomes a member, how much we charge and at the end of the day we make sure that the ranchers and our investors priorities are at the forefront of our decisions. The motto that we derive all our decision making from is that we are a co-op run By Ranchers, For Ranchers.
So where are we today? Well, we are deep in fundraising mode. We are very fortunate to have an early angel investor that thought so highly of our concept and business plan that he invested $100,000 in seed money and another $250,000 in matching funds once we got started fundraising. Since then we have established two main capital funding vehicles; a Class B Preferred Stock offering for investments of $50,000 or more and a Class C Crowd-Funded Stock offering for investments of $500-$49,999. As the Vice-President one of my roles is investor relations, so if you are interested in learning more about the Class B stock and how it works feel free to give me a call at 707-332-4605. We have already raised over $600,000 in Class B investments and are well on our way to our goal of $1.2M!
The Class C Crowd Funded Shares are where just about anyone can pitch in. For as little as $500 you can help secure your own food supply from local producers like us at Victorian Farmstead. We have raised over $200,000 in just over a month since we launched our Wefunder campaign and the stories and comments from the investors in this category are inspiring. Lots of friends and family, as you would expect, have pitched in. What is super rewarding to those of us that have been working on this project for the past six months is the folks that have come out of nowhere to invest in our success. We have an Army Sargent stationed in Europe that saw our post on Wefunder and was inspired to invest. We have investors from other states that are pitching in with the hope that our success will be a model they can use to help their own processing issues. And we have a ton of local investors that just want to see local, sustainable food sources protected and thriving.
One of the symbiotic things about a co-op is that we members are not only the owners but also the customers. Our investors love the notion that there is not a lot of selling to be done here. In fact, we as a board are more concerned with bringing in too many members and not being able to take care of them. Don’t worry, we have plans for how to expand when the time comes. But for now we need to focus on raising the capital necessary to pay for the equipment and the land to operate on. Any support from you MeatHeads out there would be much appreciated. It’s as simple as going to our page on Wefunder and making your investment. And since I am the Investor Relations guy, you are welcome to reach out to me with any questions.